It’s Time for TA and HR to Divorce

Given current labor conditions, can recruiting finally break free from the shackles of HR?

Article main image
Aug 15, 2023

Over the last three years, talent acquisition has gone through two seismic shifts — the rise of remote work and artificial intelligence. Yet most companies are still recruiting like it’s 2019, with the TA function firmly under the control of HR.

Even in 2019, amid the escalating war for talent, the need to revolutionize recruitment practices was apparent. Observers noted that HR’s conventional role was ill-equipped to handle the challenges of a fiercely competitive talent landscape, calling for the separation of the recruiting function from HR.

Since then, the world has changed dramatically.

The pandemic-induced remote-work revolution unlocked access to qualified talent from every corner of the world. Not since the internet has something offered such potential to completely transform the way — and with whom — we collaborate for the better.

HR Is Slow to Catch Up

How did HR departments react with respect to TA? In many cases, by adding “remote work options available” to their boilerplate job posts, meant to poach disgruntled workers from competitors hellbent on sticking to the old ways. As a result, in 2022, the number of job postings advertising remote work options increased three times compared to 2019.

Shortly after the pandemic, there was another revolution. The progress in artificial intelligence came to light as generative AI tools like ChatGPT blew the world’s socks off and kicked the AI-ization of everything and anything — HR and TA very much included — into a new gear.

Again, while investors are bullish and the technology’s potential is transformative, there’s little buzz among HR departments. According to Gartner, only 5% of HR leaders report that their function has already implemented generative AI, while another 9% reported conducting generative AI pilots.

Admittedly, the available AI tools are still in their infancy, and perhaps HR specialists are in the process of figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and how to make the best use of it for TA.

But that’s the case…because that’s just not how HR works.

Granted, the HR function is vital for an organization’s success. It requires highly-specialized skills, and the responsibility it bears is critical to the health of the company and the wellbeing of its employees.

Diametrically Opposed Departments

However, HR is generally process-oriented with an internal focus, as are the skills that come with it. HR is defined by risk avoidance, deliberate and measured action, focus on compliance, defined workflows, people skills, empathy and diplomacy, and more.

All of these translate spectacularly to recruitment when the job market is slow, predictable, and abundant with qualified candidates.

But it isn’t and hasn’t been for years, if not decades. Moreover, the current outlook — punctuated by the demographics question and the expanding skill gap — suggests that the war for talent will grow more intense, even if the recent economic lull and big tech layoffs have offered a brief respite.

Without candidates lining up at your door, talent acquisition takes on an entirely different form. It needs to be proactive, highly targeted, data-driven, tightly tied to business requirements, singular in its goal, guided by experimentation, and defined by a marketing mindset. Doubly so given the rapid evolution of technology and ways of working.

In short, modern TA requires a certain skill set and way of thinking diametrically opposite to HR’s less aggressive and more risk-averse approach. Just like you wouldn’t expect the company’s product team to undertake sales and marketing, you shouldn’t expect HR to answer for TA. The two functions require different expertise, culture, and ways of working.

HR and TA Must Part Ways

To thrive in today’s competitive talent landscape and take advantage of emerging technologies, companies must invest in creating focused, data-savvy, and externally-oriented TA teams, separate from HR.

These teams should be responsive to business requirements and report to team leads and C-level executives, meeting their immediate business needs as effectively as possible, rather than fulfilling quotas. These teams should also be formed around data-driven people who are eager to experiment, as well as demonstrate good marketing/sales acumen, as these will be the core competencies defining their success in an environment that’s driven by technology.

By separating TA from HR, the company should expect to reach more and higher quality candidates faster and more efficiently thanks to tech-enabled automation. Moreover, this separation may enable more effective responses to market shifts and “once-in-a-lifetime” global events, which now seem to take place every few years.

At the end of the day, a robust TA function serves to build a competitive advantage and should be directly conducive to better business results. But a company is unlikely to realize these gains if TA remains under the conservative wing of HR.

Why Companies Don’t Make the Split

The seismic shifts of remote work and AI have revealed a new era of recruiting, where HR’s risk-averse and process-oriented nature is out of sync with the dynamic needs of proactive, data-driven, tech- and marketing-savvy talent acquisition.

When will this new era take flight is anyone’s guess, but if current trends are anything to go by – don’t hold your breath.

When I first read Dr. John Sullivan’s think piece about the separation of HR and TA in 2019, I found myself enthusiastically nodding along and thought it was a matter of time before the world caught on. I’m still an ardent believer. But if a pandemic, the AI explosion, and the Great Resignation aren’t the catalysts, I don’t think anything short of a catastrophic talent shortage will put the gears in motion.

The trouble is, it may be coming sooner rather than later.

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!